I too was a first time buyer and actually my first time buying a vehicle: ended up choosing the 2011 Jeep Compass and never regretted it.
My list of choices were: Honda CR-V, Toyota Rav4, Subaru Forrester and Jeep Compass. All of them the 2011 model. I wanted an SUV since my fiance studies in the States and I'm here in Toronto...so lots of road trips. I'll admit, I was a bit concerned, like yourself, with all the negative comments...but after a test drive and researching more...I ultimately went for the 2011 Limited Jeep Compass. Probably a bit more beefier than I need, but I read somewhere that the Limited edition had better quality or something...so what the heck. Maybe I got dupped, but I can vouch for the quality of the car. I don't think anyone has abused their car as much as I have...going over 16500 km in just 4 months...through highway speeds of sometimes 120 to 140km (depending if cops are around)...and up and down the steep hills of Pittsburgh. Through it all, the Compass has served me reliably and very well. I've been through some really heavy rain and fog along my drive down south...and been able to retain speeds of 120 with full traction on my wheels. It's satisfying to see other SUVs slow down and move behind my Compass and using my tail lights as a guide in those weathers. The standard fog lights is also a life saver.
I do however, take good care of my Compass...changing the oil, lube and filter every 5000 km (as opposed to the manual stated 8000 km)...but as anyone will tell you,"Treat the car well and it'll serve you well."
So far, I have nothing but praise for this little SUV. It's beautiful, reliable, sporty (yes, it handles turns really nicely) and powerful....exactly like a little baby grand.
As for the 2012...unfortunately...from what I understand...the 2012 is exactly the same as the 2011. the 2011 model is the last one they'll make for the compass...before the line is discontinued...but man...did they go all out and let the series go in bang or what?! Best purchase I've ever made.
2011 Jeep Compass Limited Edition
4x4 CVT w/ Off-Road Crawl
Freedom Drive II
Media Center 430N Navigation
Sun and Sound Group
Leather Trimmed Seats